Belarus’s Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich rolled her eyes when the creators of Chernobyl approached her for permission to use material from her book “Voices From Chernobyl” for the hit HBO miniseries.
“I told my agent, ‘Galya, they’re going to make another film…’ I was far from convinced. The only thing that convinced me, maybe, was the fee,” Alexievich explained in a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service.
However, the five-part miniseries about the tragic accident at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant has raked in rave reviews from critics and viewers alike, and Alexievich is no exception.
“It really impressed me. It is a very strong film. There is something there in the aesthetics that touches the modern consciousness. There is a dose of fear. There is reasoning. There is beauty. That is something that has always worried me about evil, when it’s not out in the open, when so much is confusing.”
And she said that her fellow Belarusians, hard hit by the nuclear fallout scattered into the air when Reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, have now had their eyes pried open to the real scale of the tragedy, Alexievich said.
“We are now witnessing a new phenomenon that Belarusians, who suffered greatly and thought they knew a lot about the tragedy, have completely changed their perception about Chernobyl and are interpreting this tragedy in a whole new way. The authors accomplished this, even though they are from a completely different world — not from Belarus, not from our region,” she explained.
Alexievich said the film has especially struck a chord with young Belarusians.
“It’s no accident that a lot of young people have watched this film. They say that they watch it together in clubs and discuss it. They are different. For them, questions about the environment, especially in the West, it is through that lens that they understand life.”
Alexievich also praised the selection of Johan Renck as director.
“The director is a Swede by nationality. And in the Swedish consciousness there is a deep awareness of the environment,” she said.
Meanwhile, Alexievich’s book has, in turn, received high praise from Craig Mazin, the writer and producer of Chernobyl, who tweeted on June 13, 2019: “I drew historical fact and scientific information from many sources, but Ms. Alexievich’s “Voices From Chernoby”l was where I always turned to find beauty and sorrow.”
From the vintage Soviet furniture and trash bins to the period clothing, Chernobyl has been praised for staying incredibly accurate to detail, even using real dialogue, much of it recorded in Alexievich’s oral history of the disaster, “Voices From Chernobyl.”
“There is a lot of my text in the reactions of the people. For example, when people stand on the bridge and admire the fire. Those are the first impressions following the accident. The world’s, as well. The director even admitted that all of this was created from the book. I have a contract with them and author’s rights of ownership,” Alexievich explained.
Some have suggested that the character of Ulana Khomyuk, a Belarusian nuclear physicist bent on uncovering the truth behind the disaster, is based on Alexievich, although Chernobyl’s creators have said the figure is inspired by a composite of scientists involved in the disaster. Alexievich isn’t convinced the character is based on her either.
“I don’t think they wrote Khomyuk with me in mind. [Eimuntas] Nekrosis (the late Lithuanian theater director) before his death put on a play based on [my] The Boys In Zinc. I was supposedly the main figure, but she was absolutely not like me.”
Alexievich says having a female protagonist like Khomyuk simply made sense, juxtaposing her against Valery Legasov, who was instrumental in the cleanup after the disaster.
“In the film, there is a need for a leading figure, a woman — maybe because they took from my view of life, this sense of femininity, the world of the woman. For me, this is very important. In all my books there are many women heroes, not only in the work The Unwomanly Face Of War. This relationship with the living. A woman is extremely capable of detecting the connection of things. Therefore, it was probably necessary to have a woman, not only Legasov. If there had been two men, there would be no story. They introduced a woman and with a man and a woman you get two perspectives. It is very interesting.”
Asked about some of the inaccuracies in the series that critics have seized on, Alexievich is dismissive.
“First of all, it is a feature film, and the author is entitled to his interpretation and understanding of things. But they say, ‘This minister was fat, old, and now he’s young.’ Or the opposite. Or the windows weren’t like that. If you want to think like that, then if we look at the famous film Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstein, where the baby carriage flies down the steps, then some sailor named Zhalyaznyak would say that that type of revolution never happened. God forbid if the truth about Chernobyl or the gulag system had been in the hands of such people.”
Alexievich noted even Russian media were full of praise for the series, at least at first.
“In the beginning, Russian media was very positive about the series and then probably there was some yelling in the Kremlin and they suddenly became very patriotic. Then there was news they are launching their own series about Chernobyl, about how ‘our’ agents pursue some American spy at the power plant. My God, when I read all this I thought that 30 years have passed and has really nothing changed in the consciousness?”
Despite those initial doubts, Alexievich is convinced that HBO has created a classic with a strong message that she feels needs to be heard.
“Most importantly, I would like that people watch it and think about the type of world we’ve entered with such dangers. And there are more and more. Artificial intelligence, robots. It’s a whole new world.”
It’s well known that in the American military, the green beret is the exclusive headdress of soldiers qualified as Army Special Forces. The only way to don one of these distinctive berets is to complete the arduous “Q Course” and be awarded a Special Forces tab.
In fact, Army Special Forces soldiers are often called “Green Berets” based on that specific Army green “Shade 297” cap.
But how America’s premier unconventional warfare force got that iconic headwear is as much a testament to the force’s tenacity as it is a tribute to the founding soldiers who challenged at Big Army’s authority.
The beret is said to be somewhat derived from America’s ties to the British Commandos of World War II, who wore a green beret as their standard-issue headdress beginning in 1941.
So it’s not surprising that according to the official history of the Army Special Forces Association, America’s green beret was first designed by SF major and OSS veteran Herbert Brucker about two years after the unit was formed, likely due to the close work between the OSS — the predecessor to the Special Forces — and Royal British Commandos during the war.
But that all changed in the early 1960s, when then-President John F. Kennedy adopted the Special Forces as America’s answer to the guerrilla wars that marked the first decades of the Cold War. Before a visit to Fort Bragg in 1961, Kennedy reportedly ordered then Special Warfare School commander Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough to outfit his soldiers with the distinctive caps, arguing these unconventional warriors deserved headgear that set them apart from the rest of the Army.
In a twist of irony, just weeks before Kennedy’s visit, the Army officially adopted the green beret for Special Forces soldiers.
Kennedy was said to have asked Yarborough whether he liked the new berets, with the SF general telling him, “They’re fine, sir. We’ve wanted them for a long time.”
Later, Kennedy sent Yarborough a message thanking him for the visit to Bragg and remarking, “The challenge of this old but new form of operations is a real one, and I know that you and the members of your command will carry on for us and the free world in a manner which is both worthy and inspiring. I am sure that the Green Beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead.”
The bond between the late president and the Special Forces community are so strong that on Nov. 25, 1963, as Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a Special Forces sergeant major placed his green beret on the grave of the fallen president. Silently, steadily 42 other Special Forces Soldiers laid their berets alongside, the Army says.
Since then, the SF lays a wreath at Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery on the anniversary of his death.
Former jack-of-all trades Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. David Roach spent six years learning infantry tactics, machine gunnery, bulk fuels, and heavy equipment while serving in the Marine Corps from 2002-2008.
Throughout his security career, he’s gone from a mall cop and security guard to being in charge of security personnel for hospitals, airports, and companies. Currently, he’s a global security manager focused on crisis management, disaster monitoring and open source intelligence.
He also worked with the Coast Guard, doing search and rescue missions and anti-drug interdiction out of Monterrey Bay, California. He used all of his experience for material for his books.
“In security, I’ve been shot at. I’ve had people try to stab me. I’ve gotten into lots of fights and take downs,” Roach said. “I hate going into crowded places. I’m definitely a person who enjoys being out in the wilderness.”
He also used the military family experience of his wife, Amanda, to add to the realism behind the fantasy of his characters in his five-novel Vikings series called Marauder.
“I come from a Marine family,” Amanda said. They’ve been married 11 years. “My grandmother and grandfather actually met in the Marines. She was Marine in the 1950’s. She was tough as nails. My brother and cousins are also Marines.”
Former Marine Lance Cpl. David Roach, writer of the Marauder series, uses his real-world Marine Corps and security training for his characters, as well as the experiences of his friends and family who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Photo by Shannon Collins)
Roach said he researched the history of Vikings, Scandinavian culture and the realities of their lives during that time period.
“I try to keep it as realistic as possible and then throw in the monsters and the Gods. That’s when it gets fun and exciting,” he said smiling. “But everything else, I try to keep as realistic and close to real life as possible so that the readers can relate.”
He said his books reflect his military experience because he doesn’t shy away from dark humor, cursing or the brutality of war. “These are not kids’ tales. They’re brutal. I’m always trying to find the historical curse words, the slang they would’ve used at the time. This is what it was like during that time. That was what real life was like,” he said. “I started going to re-enactment battles as well,” Roach said. “I got to get into a shield wall. I saw how easy it is for a shield to splinter or for weapons to bend or how quickly things could go wrong if you get flanked or if someone is careless.”
For Roach’s Civil War book, When the Drums Stop, he wrote in the footsteps of his ancestor, a low-ranking Union soldier. He drove cross-country and visited the National Civil War Museum and stopped at battlefields for inspiration.
Roach said that anyone in the military who even has an inkling of becoming a writer, whether it be for a novel or for a website should just start doing it.
“Don’t wait for somebody’s permission. Don’t wait for a publication or publisher to tell you you’re good enough because most of them will say, ‘No’ because they want to make sure you’re a sure thing before they even spend a dollar on you,” he said. “Just do it. As I take up more virtual book space, more people are finding me. More people are starting to pay attention.”
Roach started with self-publishing his first few novels but a positive review from a professor of Norse archaeology, he picked up a publisher.
“Just like with the military, if you work hard at it and have that perseverance, eventually it’s going to pan out for you,” he said.
The US Navy is getting creative with the weapons payloads of the Virginia-class submarines, one of the deadliest and most technologically advanced subs in the world.
The Virginia Payload Module (VPM), a weapons system intended to give the late-block Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) a bit more punch, was initially viewed solely in the context of giving these submarines the kind of firepower seen on the aging Ohio-class guided-missile submarines (SSGNs).
“We were only really allowed to talk about it as a replacement for SSGN strike,” Program Executive Office for Submarines Executive Director George Drakeley said at November 2018’s Naval Submarine League symposium, USNI News reported Nov. 15, 2018. “The handcuffs are off now, and lately we’ve been talking about other capabilities,” he said at the event.
The US Navy awarded BAE Systems a contract in 2018 to develop new payload tubes — the new VPMs — for two Block V Virginia-class submarines, Defense News reported in June 2018. One of the four VPM tubes reportedly has the ability to carry and launch up to seven Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs). This technology can triple the sub’s payload capacity, significantly boosting its firepower.
Rendering of Virginia-class attack submarine.
(US Department of Defense graphic by Ron Stern)
There are also opportunities to innovate and apply this technology to new missions, a necessity as the US refocuses its efforts on preparation for high-end conflict with rival powers. “We’re in a great power competition now, and so we need to be focusing on other potential capabilities,” Drakeley told those in attendance.
Both Russia and China are increasingly advancing their undersea warfighting capabilities. “In the undersea domain, the margins to victory are razor thin,” Adm. James G. Foggo III, the commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, told Pentagon reporters in October 2018.
A new report evaluating the National Defense Strategy, which also highlights the threat posed by great power competition, recommended the US bolster its submarine force. But numbers are not everything, as capability is also key.
“We have to get past the days of just ADCAP (advanced capability Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo) and TLAM (Tomahawk land-attack missile) as being our two principle weapons,” Rear Adm. John Tammen, the director of undersea warfare on the staff of the chief of naval operations, explained to attendees.
Tammen told USNI News that the surface warfare community is looking into a next-generation land-attack weapon, and the undersea warfare directorate would then look at ways to adapt it to the VPM, giving the Virginia-class subs an alternative to the Tomahawks.
At the same time, the Navy is also interested in VPM-launched unmanned undersea vehicles, but the pairing process has proven something of a challenge.
This new technology, as long with new torpedo systems, could potentially be seen on the Block VI and VII Virginia-class SSNs.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At 100, Jack Eaton is the oldest living, oldest known sentinel of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. His and other sentinels’ names are there on plaques, commemorating their service. Sentinels, all volunteers, are members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard.”
Life in the Army for Eaton began when he left coal country in southeastern Pennsylvania to enlist in 1937 at age 18. Stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, he said, he fired expert with his rifle and was very competitive in military training and other activities, and that got him selected for the job. Sentinels are also usually tall, and Eaton’s height also helped. At 6-feet, he was considered tall at the time.
Eaton spoke during a tour of the Pentagon, where he met with Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist and others.
Army Capt. Harold Earls, right, commander of the Tomb Guard, presents World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, with a signed photo and challenge coin from the Tomb Guard.
(Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Vanessa N. Atchley)
Earlier in the day, he also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, after arriving on an Honor Flight from Burton, Michigan, where he now lives.
While at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Eaton said he was struck by the elaborate, precision movements of the sentinels, although he remembers it being similar during his time there, with knife-edge creases on the soldiers’ uniforms. He recalls the snap and pop sounds of doing the manual of arms with his rifle.
World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Oct. 23, 2019.
(Photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Dylan C. Overbay)
One thing that has changed since Eaton’s days as a sentinel is that the changing of the guard ceremony is now every hour instead of every two hours. Eaton said he was told that the change was made so more visitors could view the ceremony, and he said that’s a good thing for the public to see.
Eaton picked up rank quickly and eventually became corporal of the guard, responsible for ensuring that the changing of the guard and other activities went smoothly.
World War II veteran Jack Eaton, left, and Army Capt. Harold Earls, commander of the Tomb Guard, speak to new recruits in the Tomb Quarters at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Oct. 23, 2019.
(Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser)
Eaton’s enlistment expired in 1940, and he went to work for Hudson Motor Car Company. His work there was short-lived, however, because the United States entered World War II after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Eager to get into the war, Eaton returned to Fort Belvoir. His old unit had disbanded, but his old company commander was still there and remembered him. He got Eaton into welding school in Washington, where he trained daily on the use of oxy acetylene and various forms of electric welding. The training soon paid off, he said.
World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, points to his name on a plaque at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Oct 23, 2019.
(Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Vanessa N. Atchley)
Eaton was assigned a truck full of welding gear and mechanical tools and parts, as well as a full-time mechanic. In 1942, just months after the war started, Eaton, his mechanic and the truck were shipped off to England, where they went from airfield to airfield repairing heavy equipment such as bulldozers, graders and cranes used to build runways.
It was a lot of work, he said, because many new runways were being built. This required a lot of heavy equipment, which frequently broke down.
World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, is greeted by Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Oct. 23, 2019.
(Photo by Elizabeth Fraser)
As the war progressed, Eaton, his truck and his partner were transferred to France, and eventually to Germany. By the end of the war, he had attained the rank of technician fourth grade.
After the war ended in 1945, Eaton said, he went back to Hudson to work, but only for a short time, because he found a better job in the window replacement industry.
After a while, he said, he decided he could make a lot more money starting up his own window business, and he did so after purchasing a 2,100-square-foot factory and showroom. His business was such a success that he was able to retire at the ripe young age of 55.
Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director, Arlington National Cemetery and Army National Military Cemeteries, World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, and Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan walk at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Oct. 23, 2019.
(Photo by Elizabeth Fraser)
Eaton said he’s impressed with the service members he meets today. As for advice to give them on how to succeed, he offered: “Accept responsibility, don’t shirk your duty, honor your oath, be proud of what you do and try to do better each time.” He also said that healthy competition with other soldiers will do much toward self-improvement.
World War II veteran Jack Eaton, 100, and Army Capt. Harold Earls, commander of the Tomb Guard, point to Eaton’s name on a plaque at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Oct 23, 2019.
(Photo by Elizabeth Fraser)
As for his secret to living to be 100 and walking around the Pentagon at a fast pace without a wheelchair, Eaton credited the genes of his mother, who lived to be 100. He also said he quit smoking in his early 30s, drinks moderately — or not at all for long periods of time — eats right and gets up every morning to do rigorous exercises.
Eaton said he’s lived a full and happy life and was blessed to have the chance to serve his country and contribute to society afterward.
Hanson at the GI Film Festival San Diego. Photo credit BH.
Brian Hanson has lived a few lives and succeeded in some of the harder endeavors known to man: earning a Ranger tab and making a movie. He grew up in Southern California, worked in Hollywood for awhile and then felt called to serve in the U.S. Army. He left Hollywood and became a Ranger serving on multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Upon returning from his service he fulfilled his dream by writing, directing and producing his first film, The Black String, starring Frankie Muniz.
WATM: Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born in Detroit then my parents moved to San Diego. They were tired of the snow and wanted a new lifestyle on the West Coast. My father has always been a huge TV, film and history buff. I grew up in Escondido which is a suburb of San Diego. I had a sister that unfortunately was killed in a car accident when she was sixteen so that was a life changing moment in our lives. It was a paradigm shifter. My parents worked hard, and my youth was in many ways the normal SoCal life — riding bikes with friends, enjoying summers and playing sports. I had a real fascination toward movies and telling stories. It was always in me. I played football and baseball in high school. I also did student government. We did a field trip when I was a senior in high school to see a talk show at Paramount Studios to see The Kathy Lee Gifford Show. Seeing the stage, PAs and cameramen showed me that showbiz was a real industry and that I could do it. Even though I did (short) films with my friends it made me aware that I could direct myself toward the industry. It is a real thing.
I graduated that summer and my sister died, so all bets were off on going into the industry at that time. I did one year at San Diego State and then decided to travel abroad with a friend. We worked as bartenders and lived in the United Kingdom. It is what 18 year olds should do— go see the world. I started reading Syd Field books and Robert Rodriguez books like Rebel Without a Crew, watching El Mariachi, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Blair Witch, The Following…I was really into the big studio movies (Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Matrix) and the independents. It was like you can do this, get a camcorder and you can do it. I knew I wanted to join the military, but not at that moment in my life so I came back from Europe and transferred up to Cal State Northridge. I graduated and got my proper film school bachelor’s degree. I knew I wanted to be a Writer/Director. My parents were very supportive of my endeavor in making it in Hollywood and telling stories.
Once US Forces entered Iraq in 2003, I had read voraciously about 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. I knew I was going to join the military at some point, but when? I would be pouring drinks for young, good looking Hollywood people at a bar making hundreds of dollars a night where over their shoulder would be a TV on reporting the Battle of Fallujah. I started to not feel right about that, and I wanted to be an honest storyteller. I would like to be a storyteller that speaks truthfully and authentically and didn’t want to be the person that imitates. I didn’t want to be an imitator of Goodfellas or Full Metal Jacket. I knew I needed that life experience to be an authentic storyteller. I did a TV Pilot with some friends that we raised money for, and Brandon Routh was in it. This was right before he was cast as Superman in Superman Returns. Brandon and I bartended together at that time. He was a great guy to work with. I was also bartending at the Playboy mansion during the end of the glory days for Hefner and the Mansion. It’s tough to just walk away from all of that and you are making decent money in Hollywood. You are just one step or script away from “it” happening.
After not much happened with the TV Pilot I started to realize that Hollywood and LA are still going to be here. I wrestled a year or two of how to leave it behind after I had started a life. As I approached 30, I looked in the mirror and decided to join the Army because if I waited longer, the military wouldn’t let me join – I’d be too old. I would have regretted to my dying day if I did not serve. There were no questions in life. I knew joining as an older guy would be different when compared to most recruits. But I wanted to volunteer my time and some of the years of my life to serve my country, but I had to step up and go do it. I gotta do this and gotta do it now. I knew my goal was to come back to LA with this accomplishment and service to my country being complete.
Hanson at Fort Benning. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What made you want to become a Ranger and what was your experience like?
I didn’t know all the details when I enlisted as an 11Bravo (infantry), but I knew that Rangers and Green Berets were the high-speed special-operations units. One day in Basic Training at Fort Benning, the Ranger recruiters came out to ask for volunteers and my Drill Sergeant SFC Metcalfe looked at me and said, “Hanson, you better f’n volunteer.” So, I volunteered on the spot and a few months later I was reporting to Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Unfortunately, SFC Metcalfe was killed in action a year later when he deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd. I thank SFC Metcalfe for pushing me to go Ranger.
I was stationed at Fort Benning with 3rd Ranger Battalion where it is a high-speed training cycle. You train for six months and then deploy for about 3 to 4 months. There is always a Ranger Battalion deployed. Just operating at that tempo, at all times, is exciting and inspiring to see your NCOs, squad leaders and platoon sergeants are on their sixth or tenth deployment. It was very inspiring to see their commitment to the unit at the cost of their family and personal time. When you are a single young, enlisted person it is very inspiring to see that level of motivation. Rangers hold themselves up to the highest standard of leading the way. You are always being tested. It is uncomfortable and you never have a chance to relax. It is a great way to stay sharp. It is a tough head space to always be in. You are always being watched. The young (new) guys compete like professional athletes to deploy, like trying to make the starting roster. Once you deploy you want to be on that mission every time. I deployed to FOB Salerno in Afghanistan on the border real close to Pakistan. My second deployment was at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion and then my last deployment I was at FOB Shank aka “Rocket City”. That place was hit like all day with nonstop rockets. It’s funny how used to it you get.
The Taliban used a lot of ingenious guerrilla tactics like setting ice on the mortars to eventually melt and then go off at some point during the day. Apaches would launch to try and find the culprits however they were not there. We ran the night shift out there for High Value Targets (HVT) where we went on night raids. To see how targets were acquired and track and intel was gathering where the strike force commander was the CO. From top to bottom the whole thing was a collection of assets. We worked with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, big Army, DIA and had civilians running the drones. It is amazing to see people come together for these task forces where all of these people work together on the fly. Being 30 and seeing this strike force run by young soldiers/civilians is amazing because in Hollywood most 23-year olds close to me are up and coming bartenders/actors/writers/directors. In Afghanistan we had 23-year-old Forward Observers bringing in Chinook helicopters into dangerous LZs to pick us up for a night raid. 24-year-old squad leaders are ensuring that everyone is accounted for and that no one is left behind on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. It is amazing to see what young people can do where they have been trained at such a high level and have high expectations. They achieve and are motivated. I think Hollywood is an amazing place where things get done, but I think a lot of it is a 10-year delay. It is a bit of an arrested development sometimes.
In a training incident I was a towed jumper. We were doing our yearly training for airfield seizures which is an entire battalion operation to seize an airfield. I was the last guy to jump out of a C-17 at night with a full combat load and got hung up on the plane which made me a towed jumper. I was hanging outside of a C-17 at 1000 to 1500 feet circling Fort Benning banging against the side of the plane and fully conscious. Thinking that I might die at any moment and this is not a normal thing to happen to people. My static line wrapped around my weapons case where when you are jumping your weapons case is attached to your thigh and your harness. Somehow there was too much slack in the static line to where it wrapped around the weapons case so it wouldn’t release me. The static line stays clipped inside the plane and it is supposed to pull the back of the pack tray. You jump and it pulls it out, but it got wrapped around and it pulled me.
I was okay with a tight body position and covered my reserve chute, so it didn’t release. I was out there for six minutes. I thought they were going to cut me loose to where all I have left is my reserve chute to land on some trees at night next to the Chattahoochee River. Then I started looking at my boots flying through the air and thought this is what parasailing must be like. Then I thought, did they forget about me and is the C-17 going to try to land? Do they not know I am out here, and I am going to do some high-speed combat roll on a tarmac as the C-17 lands? You are trained to keep a tight body position out there, so they know you are not unconscious. I kept slamming against the side of the C-17 behind a gigantic turbine engine. I hit the plane and stayed there where I started to get dragged across the skin of the plane. I felt hands underneath my arms and they pulled me in. Everybody was so glad to see I was alive and in one piece. I was just relieved as I was out there so long, I went beyond any initial shock, concern to just cut me loose guys so I can land on a tree with my reserve shoot.
They pulled me in and did a great job making sure I was okay. I had to retell the story for weeks to a lot of soldiers, especially Sgt Majors at the DFAC wanted to hear the story of a towed jumper. It was a very bizarre story because no one wants to be a towed jumper. It is a total nightmare scenario short of both chutes failing. It all ended well and twelve stitches in my chin was it. After all of that my 1stSgt checked on me and made sure I was alright. He then told me, “Get ready you are jumping tomorrow.” We had another jump the next day. The 3rd Ranger Battalion was like you are jumping tomorrow to get over any fear of jumping again. Just get out there and do it. I jumped not 24 hours later and believe me I was concerned. I said, “There is no way that can happen twice.” I got out the door and was fine. There is not a lot of pity or sympathy it is like get back up and do it again unless you are truly hurt, alright get up and do it as there is no time to think about. That is something I take with me to this day.
All of the pre-jump training you do these repetitive and boring things you already know, and I did one of those things without even thinking about it. It dawned on me why I do this training every single time. When that one time does happen, you are ready and have gone over the worst-case scenario. You will be that much quicker to save your own life or someone else. It seems so mundane and so repetitive and a waste of time until you need it. That repetitive action like weapons malfunctions….but when you need that instantaneous second nature habit it is the most important thing you could have known at that point.
Hanson at Camp Leatherneck. Photo credit BH.
Hanson on his last mission at FOB Shank. Photo credit BH.
Paratroopers jumping from C-17 Globemasters.
View of Camp Salerno. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
WATM: What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am proud I stepped up to the challenge of 75th Ranger Regiment (thank you SFC Metcalfe) and made the team. Severing with my Ranger buddies was like the saying goes: “I was no hero, but I walked amongst a few.” I did my part and I know guys that are still out there doing it. I know squad leaders that are now getting their own platoons. Some guys have gone into elite units like Delta Force and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. I still think about them often and stay in touch. I want to make them proud because of the work they are still doing…I try to keep pushing myself in a way that would do right by the effort they are putting on…I am proud to have been on a team with those guys and seen what leadership means…and at such a young age and for so many people. I am proud to have seen it and been associated with that level of person.
Frankie and Paige Muniz, Kayli, Chelsea and Brian at Dances with Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
One thing that you see among some twenty something bartenders or Hollywood newbies that is unacceptable in the Ranger Regiment and also unacceptable in the Army are excuses. It is the same on production, there are no excuses. There are just no excuses. I don’t want to hear it other than a solution. Maybe an, “I’m sorry,” and that is it where I don’t even want to hear an excuse. Unless there is something disastrous you need to untangle. No excuses, just solutions. The high-level professional types of productions have that mentality where I really appreciate it. I do see the correlation between military units and productions. You have one mission where everyone comes together to accomplish it.
Also, you see this in the military and it is a career everything, keep moving forward just like a twenty-mile ruck march. You worry about the next step, then the next phone pole, then the next quarter mile where they will all add up. You can be overwhelmed by all of it if you look at it all at once where if you do it one step at a time you see that you can do it. Those are two crucial lessons I learned in the Army.
Hanson, Frankie and crew at Dances With Films. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in Hollywood before leaving, I came back a veteran, and still had to learn that there is a system in Hollywood. The system is not as rigid perhaps as the military. It isn’t just this artistic endeavor where you get to be a genius and be Quentin Tarantino or you are Steven Spielberg because you say you are. There is a hierarchy and there is a smart way to navigate. There is a way to get oriented and to a very real map of how this town works and have very realistic expectations. I think that veterans and others think of their prior accomplishments, whether a lawyer or a company commander of an infantry company, where you are not going to be a 1st AD. That is a ten-year path that is very regimented. The biggest challenge is understanding what the path to success is and how to realistically pursue those things. Know that they all take time and embrace that.
***Since leaving the Army I have learned so much by working as a Production Assistant on HBO’s Barry, Silicon Valley, Room 104 and worked as Assistant to Matthew Rhys on Perry Mason. Being on set and working for top level professionals has been an incredible learning experience and given me insight to become a better filmmaker on my own projects. I also greatly appreciate the film/tv mentorships, education and opportunities I was given through Veterans in Media Entertainment (VME), USVAA and WGF. It has been very important to find mentors and work for professionals.
Hanson with members of the cast and production staff at the Austin Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What was it like writing, producing and directing your own feature film, The Black String?
The story was percolating for a long time before making the film such as Donnie Darko, Repulsion, Jacobs Ladder, which does a great job of blending horror and military, and Rosemary’s Baby. It was conceived with my bartending buddy Andy Warrener before I joined the Army. We wanted to explore in that story what it is like to be on that edge where you are experiencing something and no one else believes. It is you against the world. How do you convince someone of something that crazy of a witch conspiracy or a coven of witches? Or some really wild, evil cabal? The moment you say those words you already sound like you are having mental problems. Doctors will definitely not be going to believe.
The challenge we wanted was for a character to have to convince his family, his friends and his doctors of something that is inconceivable where no one in the real world is going to believe that. We put that in a genre we enjoyed which was horror. Now we thought maybe we would make that movie, but I joined the Army and Andy got married and moved to Florida. The wild thing is that you never know what you write today may be a movie in five or ten years. I lived a whole crazy life in between thinking of the story while tending bar with my buddy and then going into the Army. The difference in the time gap was about seven years. I could not have guessed that would have happened, especially with Frankie Muniz.
The creative part I was very comfortable with in the directing and writing having made many short films. I got an MFA from Mt. Saint Mary’s University with the GI Bill, which is a beautiful thing, loves the GI Bill. I owe so much to the GI Bill. So, I got very comfortable with the directing portion where you get very creative to bring this vision and feeling and this emotion you have to life in a very technical way. It is running the business, the producing part of things, to where you are starting a business, you are an entrepreneur. My producing partner Richard Handley, he is a Navy veteran and was an officer and Physician’s Assistant, he runs a contracting business with the DoD. We ran a business together where many purely creative types don’t understand what that level of dedication and commitment is.
To this day I have had probably had equal amounts of discussions about corporate taxes, LLCs, investor shares and running a business as I have about storyboarding shots. When you are doing an independent film like this, truly a passion project, you are building a team that is not a whole lot different…then opening a small company. You and your business partner are shouldering the burden if not for months, but for years. You have to love it and I do where it has been a great journey to where we had such great crew members and other producers that have helped us along the way. It is a multiple year endeavor when you do something like that in the independent world. You really are from the very beginning of raising money all the way to negotiating with distributors and foreign distributors and how you cut checks to your investors. It’s a true business education and kind of feels like I got this mini MBA education.
That was unexpected but the directing part was just amazing. Working with such talented people and friends that I had before joining the Army…we really were able to bring a lot of relationships such as Ravi Patel I bartended with as well. Cullen Douglas and Ravi and I did a TV pilot in like 2008. It was amazing to be able to reach back to my pre-Army friends that are so talented and my post Army, new team of filmmaking friends and bring everybody together. We called on so many favors. We had such great support from Mt. Saint Mary’s, VME and Vega Baby. We called in every favor where it is such a positive experience. When we landed in Frankie Muniz where he is a champ.
He brought his “A game” even for the tiny movie it was. He loved the character and the chance to do something different. He gave everything to our tiny project as he would have to our multi-million-dollar project. He treated us with respect, and he treated the script with respect. He came to set daily with a big folder of his personal notes. He was meticulous like a pro and his level of preparation and how he kept track of everything and what he brought was just amazing. He took that movie and made it really something different than perhaps something we thought. Frankie made it his Breaking Bad character. Like his Malcolm in the Middle dad, Bryan Cranston did on Breaking Bad. He was still kind of that funny person but had a much darker take on it. It is a dark twist on that guy you already know. Frankie imbued the role in the film with his Malcolm in the Middle persona, but whoa that is the dark side of it. What happened? Like Breaking Bad, what went wrong? To work with a pro, I learned.
To be able to work with actors like Ravi, Frankie, Cullen, Oded and Chelsea where they are people that do this for a living to be able to work with people like that and be creative partners with them for my first feature was inspiring. To see how a team can really work with everybody really contributing some high-level creativity. Everyone on the team had so much to add. You have to shepherd the project to where everyone stays on track, but still allow personal creative contributions from cast members. A director is like a manager of a company. You have to work with the talent, resources and the money of your company. You still have to get to the goal, but you can’t be resistant to some things that are great new ideas.
Poster for The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Rich and Mari Handley with Yani and Brian. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Hanson and Handley on stage at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
“No excuses” and intense preparation for a project. It is preparing like you are the best and spending hours a day preparing. Don’t assume, always do pre-combat inspections. It is having everything truly ready to go. Because once you arrive on set and once you arrive at that location it needs to be ready and needs to be operational. If not you, need to have a back-up plan. Research and having contingency plans. Checking your equipment and your team. It can be seen as micromanaging, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. In the military everybody checks their troops. It’s just how it is to make sure your guys and your buddies are ready to go. I think that can be transferred to the civilian world and film production.
Frankie Muniz and Richard Handley in The Black String. Photo credit IMDB.com.
More of Muniz in The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
Screen capture of The Black String. Photo credit BH.
WATM: As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
We need support from great organizations to promote veteran voices and veteran creators. Such organizations as We Are The Mighty, Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), of which I volunteer heavily with, the USVAA, United States Veteran Artistic Alliance, and the WGA Writer’s Guild Foundation do support veterans. We need the support from industry professionals and organizations. They are out there, and they are growing. I think that with the people in the position in power right now, the producers and executives that can green light things, I do think they do a really good job where there is always a presence of the military and law enforcement. There are always more and different perspectives. To keep in mind and do the rote, stereotypical type of story lines. There are a lot of really nuanced, interesting and unexpected perspectives that veterans can bring to the time-honored tradition of military inspired entertainment. The producers, executives and showrunners should be open to finding those unexpected angles to veteran stories.
Hanson with Steve Fiorina and Handley at the GI Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What would you like to do next in your career?
I plan on directing my second film in 2021. My first one was the horror genre where my next one is likely going to be a thriller with a military character. I always want to do things that are thought provoking. I definitely want to challenge viewers and explore philosophies. …Christopher Nolan makes great entertainment and with challenging ideas and philosophies. He is an independent filmmaker making giant movies, which is something to strive for. Since I have completed my first film…I have been working to get on great television shows as a writer. There are so many stories to tell and I joined the Army and lived this life to help tell authentic stories. I would love to be in day in and day out be in a room with other story tellers creating an amazing show. Creating stories with a team. I will continue directing but would love to be in that writer’s room doing innovative television.
Brian Matthew Rhys on “Perry Mason”. Photo credit BH.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
I am most proud of serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. In a sense in my career I may never do anything as meaningful as that even if I make ten more movies or even if nominated for an Academy Award. I don’t think that I’ll ever be prouder than spending those days with my Ranger buddies in Afghanistan or sweating in Fort Benning. I am also proud of making that first movie and everyone that contributed to that colossal effort from nothing. Rich Handley and I being these recent film graduates decided to make a movie where we built that coalition from the ground up. It is an effort we are very proud of and what we did and everybody that was able to help us achieve that.
On the back end we got distribution through Grindstone and Lionsgate to where we had to find everything from scratch. The studio didn’t fund this. Movie making is a risky endeavor and long commitment over many years. The movie has been out now over a year and we are still making producer phone calls and receiving emails four years later. When you divide the money, you might make on the back end of an indie film and divide the hours by what you put in it, there might not be much money so that passion that drives you to keep working. There is a bond between people that have that level of passion to work 15-hour days. You are not really thinking about the paycheck where you are there to get the job done because you believe it is similar to the military mindset.
My wife Yani Navas-Hanson is from Venezuelan; she left the country and I met her in Atlanta when I was at Fort Benning and she was studying at Georgia Tech. She was the accountant by trade and then was our accountant on the movie. She left her country, learned English here in the US and transitioned from corporate accounting to entertainment accounting and from taking on the challenges of an independent film. What someone like her can accomplish if they are driven and keep pushing forward and to be able to accomplish that in a few years is amazing. People do have to surround themselves with the right people. If you are in a relationship with someone who is not supportive with this career path or your family is not supportive, then you might have a tough time during the ups and downs. Family and friend support is crucial. I have fantastic and supportive friends and family.
Brian and Yani at Sitges Film Festival. Photo credit BH.
Along with Flash Gordon, Joseph Campbell, and about a million other things, George Lucas was inspired by The Searchers when he created Star Wars. The director even slid a few subtle references to the film into A New Hope.
The star of The Searchers, of course, is John Wayne, so it’s cool in a full-circle kind of way that his grandson is now officially part of the Star Wars universe.
Brendan Wayne got his start in the family business in a 2001 episode of Angel, and since then he’s appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows, from Fast Furious to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Sons of Anarchy.
In The Mandalorian, the younger Wayne appears in episodes three through six as one of the doubles for the titular character. The Wayne family is now officially part of a blockbuster world their paterfamilias helped inspire.
All in all, this is very cool, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention another less cool way the Wayne family inadvertently altered the course of Star Wars history in a way that many fans did not appreciate.
George Lucas specifically cited John Wayne in the thought process behind altering the Han-Greedo standoff in A New Hope so that Han shoots second.
Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, “Should he be a cold-blooded killer?” Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, “Yeah, he should be John Wayne.” And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.
John Wayne was such an influential actor that he was synonymous with a certain rugged moral masculinity, something many fans would argue led Lucas astray when he altered A New Hope to make Solo more Wayne-like. Lucas tinkered with the scene yet again, it became one of the biggest stories on Disney+ launch day, though you could hardly blame John Wayne for either kerfuffle.
You also can’t blame Brendan Wayne, whose presence in episodes 3 through 6 of The Mandalorian is the kind of cool trivia that will make fans happy, not angry.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019, signed into law the US Space Force, the sixth military branch and first devoted to organizing, training, and equipping personnel to use and defend military space assets.
Trump signed a directive organizing the Space Force as part of the Air Force in February. With the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that Trump signed Dec. 20, 2019, US Air Force Space Command becomes Space Force but remains within the Air Force, much like the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy Department.
“Going to be a lot of things happening in space, because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain,” Trump said Dec. 20, 2019. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital … The Space Force will help us deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground.”
President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Dec. 20, 2019. Trump visited Andrews to thank service members before signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 which support the Air Force’s advanced capabilities to gain and maintain air superiority and the airmen that are essential to our nation’s success.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)
Space Force is separate from NASA, the civilian space agency. Other agencies that work on space-related issues, like the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, will continue operating as before.
But most of the Pentagon’s space programs will eventually be housed under the Space Force. Staffing and training details for the new branch will be sorted out over the next 18 months, Air Force officials said Dec. 20, 2019.
Space Force is not designed or intended to put combat troops into space; it will provide forces and assets to Space Command, which was set up in August and will lead military space operations.
The exact division of responsibilities and assets has not been fully worked out, but when the creation of Space Command was announced in December 2018, then-Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan compared the relationship to that of the other five military branches with the four functional combatant commands, such as Transportation Command, which manages transportation for the military, or Strategic Command, which oversees US nuclear arms.
There are “still a lot of things that we don’t know,” Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command and US Space Command, told reporters Dec. 20, 2019. Raymond can lead Space Force as chief of space operations for a year without going through Senate confirmation, which his successor will have to have.
“There’s not a really good playbook on, how do you stand up a separate service?” Raymond said. “We haven’t really done this since 1947,” when the Air Force was created.
US Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida, May 7, 2017.
(US Air Force)
While much remains to be decided about Space Force and Space Command, conversations about how the latter will support operations on earth have already started, according to Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of US European Command, one of the six geographic combatant commands.
“I talk to Gen. Raymond on a very regular basis. I would say probably once a week,” Wolters said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast on December 10, when about potential partnerships between Space Command, European Command, and European allies.
“From a US EUCOM perspective, we have space componency that Gen. Raymond extends to us to allow us to better defend and better deter, and with each passing day we’re going to find ways to align the assets that exist in space to better deter and to better defend.”
Wolters spoke after NATO officially recognized space as an operational domain, alongside air, land, sea, and cyber, on November 20.
That recognition allows NATO to make requests of members, “such as hours of satellite communications,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time. NATO members own half of the 2,000 satellites estimated to be in orbit.
Wolters called that recognition “a huge step in the right direction.”
“In our security campaign, from a US EUCOM perspective and from a NATO perspective, we always have to improve in indications and warnings. We always have to improve in command and control and feedback, and we always have to improve in mission command. And we have to do that in space,” Wolters said.
The Air Force launches a Wideband Global SATCOM satellite at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, March 18, 2017.
(US Air Force/United Launch Alliance)
Supporters see a Space Force as a national security necessity in light of other countries’ advancing space capabilities and because of potential threats in space, such as interference with systems like GPS.
Critics say it’s not clear what capabilities a Space Force brings that Air Force Space Command doesn’t already provide and that its creation will spur an arms race in space.
In recognizing space as a domain, NATO ministers agreed that space was “essential” to the alliance’s ability to deter and defend against threats, providing a venue for things like tracking forces, navigation and communications, and detecting missile launches.
Stoltenberg declined to say how NATO’s space-based capabilities could work with US Space Command, telling press on November 19 that he would “not go into the specifics of how we are going to communicate with national space commands and national space capabilities.”
“What NATO will do will be defensive,” he said, “and we will not deploy weapons in space.”
Wolters didn’t mention space-based weapons in his remarks this month but did tout capabilities offered by operations in space.
“Obviously there are things that take place in space at speeds and with a degree of precision that are very, very attractive for deterrence, and space-to-surface [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] is one of those key areas,” Wolters said, adding that he and Raymond have discussed and will continue to discuss those “big issues.”
“It all has to do with seeing the potential battle space, seeing the environment, and being able to have quick feedback on what is taking place in that environment,” Wolters said. “If you can obviously utilize the resources that exist in space, you can probably do so at a speed that makes commanders happy because they have information superiority.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For an ordinary man, ‘Manila John’ Basilone did extraordinary things. Despite a short life, Basilone accomplished great acts of heroism and patriotism. Born on Nov. 4, 1916, in Ruritan, New York, Basilone would go on to become the first U.S. Marine of enlisted rank to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also the only enlisted Marine to earn the Navy Cross posthumously.
Basilone hadn’t begun his career in the Marine Corps. Basilone enlisted in the U.S. Army just before his 18th birthday in 1934. He was sent to the Philippines as an infantryman from 1934 to 1937. While in the (at the time) U.S. colony, Basilone became a champion boxer and fell in love with his style of life there. Three years after his return to the United States, Basilone enlisted in the Army, thinking he would be more likely to return to the Philippines in that service. His Marine service did take him to the Far East, but, sadly, he never saw his beloved Manila again.
After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. joined the fight against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy. America’s late entry into WWII has drawn criticism, but there was no doubt that once America joined it came with full force. Basilone’s unit (1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division) soon found themselves in the thick of the fighting defending the island of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was where this ordinary man’s extraordinary courage first showed itself.
Guadalcanal was as rough a posting as any soldier could want, or fear. Sited well within Japan’s emerging empire, it was vital to the Americans–and the Japanese wanted them out. Allied forces had captured an airstrip at Henderson Field, which allowed Allied aircraft to strike Japanese forces. In response, the Japanese naval force known as the Tokyo Express regularly bombarded the airfield and American positions. The fight for Guadalcanal was long and bloody. Basilone was smack in the middle of it.
During Oct. 24-25 in 1942, the Marines faced a frontal assault from over 3,000 Japanese troops of the Sendai Division. The Japanese, probably World War II’s best jungle fighters, attacked in typical Samurai fashion. The troops regarded death in battle as something to aspire to, not fear. Commanding two machine gun sections, Basilone readily obliged their aspirations. The citation for his Congressional Medal of Honor described his efforts in the battle.
“In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.”
A brave effort indeed, but ‘Manila John’ wasn’t finished yet. His citation continues:
“A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through enemy lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment.”
Thirty-eight bodies were left around the gun that Basilone had personally manned. His mission to collect ammunition for his gunners saw him fighting through Japanese lines on foot both ways, using a pistol. Not surprisingly, his commander Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis ‘Chesty’ Fuller recommended Basilone receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was well deserved.
Newly promoted to Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, CMH, USMC, he was sent home for publicity tours, using his celebrity status. He wasn’t happy. Like many soldiers, Basilone disliked celebrity and hero-worship. Like many Marines, he said as much. Within months, he requested re-assignment to the Pacific. The Corps refused, offering a commission and a safe posting stateside.
His national war bond tour had earned him ticker-tape parades, newsreel coverage, and a spot in Life magazine, but he wanted to be in the front line with his fellow Marines. He reportedly said, “I’m just a plain soldier and want to stay one. I ain’t no officer and I ain’t no museum piece. I belong back with my outfit.”
Eventually, the Corps relented. Basilone went to Camp Pendleton to train for combat in the Pacific. There he met his wife, fellow Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi, who became Mrs. Basilone in July 1944. In December, Basilone returned to the Pacific, headed for Iwo Jima. He never saw his wife again.
Iwo Jima was a bloodbath. Over 20,000 Japanese troops defended it: Only about 200 of them are known to have survived. The Marine Corps suffered nearly 26,000 casualties, of whom nearly 7,000 were killed in action. On the first day of the invasion, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, CMH, USMC became one of the fatal casualties.
Attacking the Japanese-held Airfield One on Feb. 19, 1945, Basilone was killed. By then he’d already risked his life pushing two bogged-down Sherman tanks out of mud, by hand, and had killed numerous Japanese soldiers. According to his Navy Cross citation:
‘In the forefront of the assault at all times, [Basilone] pushed forward with dauntless courage and iron determination until, moving upon the edge of the airfield, he fell, instantly killed by a bursting mortar shell.’
He was 28 years old. Basilone’s actions just before his death would posthumously earn him a Navy Cross and Purple Heart. Basilone was the only Marine who was awarded these three major citations (Navy Cross, Purple Heart, and Medal of Honor) during World War II.
Basilone’s wife, Lena Mae, never remarried. She died in 1999 and was buried wearing her wedding ring. Aside from numerous decorations, Basilone received other honors. The U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him in 1945, which Lena Mae christened. Another USS John Basilone is scheduled for commission in 2019. He also appeared in the ‘Distinguished Marines’ postage stamp series and was a central character in the HBO series The Pacific.
The U.S. Marine Corps still consider him a soldier’s soldier, a Marine’s Marine. He lies beside many of America’s heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. You can find Basilone’s grave in section 12, Grave 384.
There are no soldiers in the United States Army that are as dedicated to their mission as the sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a grueling position that demands an extreme attention to detail in order to honor not only the unknown soldiers but all who have fallen.
The sentinels follow a strict routine at all hours of the day, regardless of the weather or situation. Good days, bad days, hot days, snowy days, before crowds, on silent nights, in a pleasant breeze, or mid-hurricane — no matter the environment, these sentinels must perform.
Their level of dedication has not gone unnoticed by the American public. While the sentinels have rightly earned every bit of admiration, such widespread recognition doesn’t come without a handful of misconceptions.
Usually, the “newmen” get night shifts when minor missteps aren’t noticed by a crowd.
Guards get the Tomb Guard Identification Badge immediately
There is a difference between being a soldier who guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and being a sentinel. Soldiers in training may guard the tomb and perform their duties just as a sentinel, but only a sentinel may wear the badge.
To become a sentinel, you must go through rigorous training and an incredibly difficult series of tests. These sentinels are only allowed two minor uniform infractions — anything major and you’re out. They must memorize a 17-page pamphlet and rewrite it with proper punctuation and make fewer than 10 mistakes. They must then perform on the mat, facing a 200-point inspection — only two minor infractions are permitted.
Even the sergeant of the guard is tested before stepping on the mat.
Sentinels have reached perfection
Every step must be precise. Every turn must be precise. They must maintain a precise measure of time throughout. Everything they do must be as close to perfection as possible. If you think they’ve set the bar impossibly high, then you’re right.
The extreme standards required of the sentinels are put in place to prevent them from getting complacent. The expectations on these troops are so high that they can never be reached. This way, the guards and sentinels never feel like they’ve mastered their trade and they must always strive to improve — even if they’re at 99.99% perfection.
Those other major incidents, however, are not for the following two reasons.
(Photo by Pfc. Gabriel Silva)
Sentinels can wear their badge forever
Once you’ve graduated from Airborne School, you can keep your wings forever. Once you’ve graduated Ranger School, you can wear your tab forever. Unlike many badges and identifiers in the Army, sentinels can have their badge revoked for improper personal conduct.
Even if a former sentinel has long since retired, if they commit a felony, receive a DUI, or are convicted of any other major crime, their name is stricken from the record and they lose their badge.
Even when they’ve become sentinels, they still don’t have time to drink. Maybe when they retire.
(Photo by Pfc. Gabriel Silva)
Sentinels are never allowed to drink
Some time ago, a spam email made the rounds that was filled with a lot of truth but also some nonsense about the sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In that forwarded email, it stated that the sentinels must never have a drop of alcohol for the rest of their life. This rumor holds about as much weight as the Nigerian Prince asking for your mother’s maiden name.
As long as they are not a guard going through training (they don’t have time to drink anyway) and they are of age, they are free to enjoy alcohol — as long as they are off-duty and they have a designated driver or taxi ready.
A third “can’t for life” myth from that email is watching TV. But I think you get the point…
Sentinels are not allowed to curse
This one’s similar to the “no alcohol” rumor. We’re sorry to dispel the illusion, but sentinels are absolutely allowed to use profanity in their everyday speech if they’re off-duty.
That being said, sentinels are not permitted to curse while on the mat. Then again, they can’t really do anything other than guard the tomb while they’re on the mat.
They’re still your highly-trained, highly-precise soldier who can probably eyeball 1/64th of an inch.
Sentinels live under the tomb
The silliest of all rumors states that the guards and sentinels live underneath the tomb so they can always remain on call. The truth is that they live in a regular barracks at Fort Myer, which is right next to Arlington, or off-post with their families.
There are living quarters under the steps of the amphitheater, but those are mostly used as a staging area for inbound and outbound guards/sentinels to prepare their uniforms.
Most units in the military have a motto that they use to stand out. Some of them are even pretty cool. But the most badass unit mottos are forged in the crucible of combat.
Here are seven units that live by the immortal words uttered in battle:
1. “Keep up the fire!” – 9th Infantry Regiment
The 9th Infantry Regiment has a long history, but its service in China is particularly noteworthy. Not only did the 9th pick up its regimental nickname, Manchu, from its time there — but also the unit’s motto.
He was immediately targeted by Chinese snipers and mortally wounded himself. His dying words to his men were “Keep up the fire!”
The unit successfully stormed the city and captured it from the Boxers.
2. “I’ll try, sir” – 5th Infantry Regiment
Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 25, 1814. (New York State Military Museum)
During the War of 1812, the 21st Infantry Regiment engaged the British at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
After the Americans were decimated by British artillery on the high ground, Lt. Col. James Miller, the regimental commander, was given the near suicidal task of launching an assault to capture the guns. He simply responded, “I’ll try, sir.”
The 21st advanced on the British position and fired a volley that swept the artillerymen from their guns. They then charged with bayonets, driving off the remaining British troops and capturing the guns.
3. “These are my credentials” – 8th Infantry Division
After landing in Normandy in July 1944, the 8th Infantry Division was part of the arduous task of liberating the port city of Brest. After weeks of hard fighting, the Germans finally capitulated on Sept. 19.
When Brig. Gen. Charles Canham, deputy commander of the division, arrived to accept the surrender of the German commander, Gen. Ramcke, the senior German officer demanded to see the American’s credentials. Canham, simply pointed to his battle-hardened soldiers and replied, “These are my credentials.”
4. “Rangers lead the way!” – 75th Ranger Regiment
The Rangers of WWII spearheaded many Allied invasions, particularly on D-Day at Normandy. The Rangers of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions found themselves pinned down on Omaha beach along with the rest of the assault force.
Trying to inspire the shell-shocked men of the 29th Infantry Division, Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, the assistant division commander, came across the men of the 5th Ranger Battalion. When they identified themselves as Rangers Cota then gave one of the most famous orders in the history of the U.S. Army: “Well, goddammit then, Rangers, lead the way!”
Their efforts effected the first break through on Omaha and what would later become their motto — Rangers lead the way.
5. “I’ll face you!” – 142nd Infantry Regiment
The 142nd first saw action as part of the 36th Infantry Division in World War I. After facing heavy fighting near the village of St. Etienne, the regiment faced off against the Germans at the Aisne River. The regiment sent a patrol across the river to reconnoiter behind enemy lines.
As they attempted to return to friendly lines, they came under heavy fire from the Germans. A young lieutenant, inspiring his men, turned towards the Germans and shouted, “I’ll face you!” and refused to turn his back.
6. “Nothing in Hell must stop the Timberwolves” – 104th Infantry Division
The 104th Infantry Division was a unique formation.
Having trained specifically as a nightfighting unit, the division then received a unique commander — Mej. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen. A combat commander who had previously commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Africa and Sicily, he had an unorthodox command style combined with a hard-charging attitude.
When Allen took command, he gave the division its new motto, “Nothing in hell must stop the Timberwolves,” and he meant it.
The 104th fought under numerous Allied commands and was always held in the highest regard, often being cited as the finest assault division. Through courage, grit, and determination the Timberwolves defeated the Germans and lived up to their motto.
7. “Let ’em have it!” – 59th Infantry Regiment
The 59th Infantry Regiment shipped to France during World War I as part of the 7th Brigade. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the 59th took part in the fighting around Chateau-de-Diable.
During the engagement, a squad approached from the Chateau. Initially the men held their fire, afraid of gunning down friendly forces, until a sergeant with the regiment realized the mistake and yelled out, “They come from the wrong direction, let ’em have it!”
It was later discovered that the squad was German soldiers in American uniforms and the sergeant’s words became the unit motto.
There’s skydiving, and then there’s Army skydiving.
Their origins began in the Cold War when the Soviet Union was dominating the emerging skydiving sport. In 1959, 19 Airborne soldiers began competing at the international level, and by 1961 they were known as the Golden Knights.
Since then, the Knights have conducted more than 16,000 shows around the world, and team members have broken 348 world records.
And sometimes if you’re very lucky, you can strap one on like a backpack and jump out of a plane with him.
Watch what it’s like to jump with the Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are comprised of a few different teams: the demonstration teams perform at over 100 events per year (and if you haven’t seen them in action, run don’t walk — they’re remarkable) while the tandem team jumps with fellow soldiers, heads of state, celebrities, people of influence, members of the military community, and, well, military pin-ups as it turns out.
The Knights reached out to Gina Elise of Pin-Ups for Vets, and while she declined (for now, Gina — but I am determined to get you up in the air!!), she did ask if she could send some of her more daring ambassadors. If you’re not familiar with Pin-Ups for Vets, it’s a non-profit organization that helps hospitalized and deployed service members and military families.
Erikka Davis (U.S. Army), Megan Martine (U.S. Marine Corps), Shannon Corbeil (U.S. Air Force)
After a fun meet-and-greet with our fellow guests, who included people like an A.P. Bio Teacher, a Vice Principal, a firefighter, some Los Angeles Rams Cheerleaders, and a stand-up comic, we set our alarms for an early wake-up and set out for our adventure. This is where I got to meet Sgt. 1st Class Chris “Ace” Acevedo, who would be my jump instructor.
And who apparently is also a legend.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B20UzKiA7_b/ expand=1]Shannon Corbeil on Instagram: “Before & After with SFC Chris “Ace” Acevedo. (Check out the hair! ?) I might be a little biased but he’s my favorite jump instructor! ?…”
Before & After with SFC Chris “Ace” Acevedo. (Check out the hair! ?)
Ace’s Army career included service as a Cavalry Scout and an Air Defensive Artilleryman in countries like Iraq and South Korea before he joined the Golden Knights. Over the past eleven years, he has served on both the Black and Gold demonstration teams, competition teams, and now the tandem team. He will also be representing the Army on the 2020 U.S. Parachute Team in the 2020 World Championships. I asked him what he had to do to make the team:
“Freefall at 300 mph.”
Oh. Is that all?
For comparison, during our freefall, we’d be descending at about 120 mph. So, yeah, the guy is fast.
He’s also got about 6000 jumps under his belt, which gave me a lot of comfort when confronted with this view:
Just imagine kneeling here and then…tumbling out. Because it was ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT.
(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)
It’s nice to know that if I somehow fell out of the plane without a parachute, my instructor could just…come catch me.
Because as you can see in the video above, when the students load up in the plane, we don’t have chutes. We strap in mid-flight, get a refresher from the morning’s instruction (hold chest straps, keep your eyes on your videographer, arch arch arch, two taps on the shoulder means you can release your hands, two taps on your hips means arch more, etc.), then shuffle to the door.
From there, it became a practice in trust. Walking to the edge of an open plane door without using my hands went against every instinct in my body — but I knew that Ace literally had my back.
Can you find the C-17?
(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)
In 2003, I completed five unassisted jumps with the U.S. Air Force Freefall program, which meant I was responsible for pulling my own chute after a 10-second freefall. But with the Golden Knights, my job just was to “relax, arch, and have fun.”
Right before we took off, my videographer Sgt. 1st Class Rich Sloan told me that safety was the priority, but if we were stable then he’d reach his hand out to me, and we’d spin SO I WAS DETERMINED TO BE THE MOST STABLE POSSIBLE IN THE UNIVERSE.
“And we’re the three best friends that anyone could have…”
(U.S. Army image by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)
In the video above, you can see what that spin looked like. You can also see from my reaction that it was thrilling.
During our descent, Ace pointed out a C-17 flying beneath us, maintained his checklist, and kept us alive – all of which I’m extremely thankful for. Then after what felt like 10 seconds but was actually a good 45 seconds, with a sharp salute he pulled our chute.
It went by so fast it surprised me, so I made a giphy of the moment BECAUSE MY LEGS KICK OUT AND IT’S HILARIOUS.
We had a good chute and did some spins under the canopy while Ace endured what I can only describe as me doing a breathless double rainbow guy impression (“Oh my godddddd! Oh my god this is amaaaaaazing!”) before he steered us to the landing zone and brought us gently and lovingly to the earth from whence we came.
For me, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. For Ace, it could have just been another one of 300 tandem jumps — but that’s not how he sees it. He still remembers his first jumps and the thrill of that experience, so he likes to share that feeling with others.
Talking with him after, I asked what some of his favorite parts of the job are. “Gold Star Families are pretty special. It helps them with their healing process, so that’s a big deal to me. I just want to help them through the day — for many of them, it helps them feel close to the person they lost.”
Feather-soft landing, I’m not even kidding.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Richard Sloan)
All I can say about the program is that if you get the invitation to jump with the Golden Knights, take it. They are so professional, so precise, and so skilled at what they do. I had no problem trusting this team with my life. I’m still incredulous that they even provide this kind of experience to people.
I asked Ace why they do it, and he said it’s so our country can get to know her soldiers.
“This is us. This is what an American soldier looks like. This is my Army story.”
It said two U.S. F-22 and two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets flew to the location and escorted the Russian bombers out of the zone. The U.S. jets flew out of a base in the U.S. state of Alaska, the military said.
The reports did not specify the exact location of the encounter. The military monitors air traffic in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone, which extends 320 kilometers off Alaska.
Russian state-run TASS news agency on Jan. 27, 2019, cited U.S. officials as saying the Russian jets did not enter “sovereign territory.”
It quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying the two strategic bombers “completed a scheduled flight over neutral waters of the Arctic Ocean [and] practiced refueling” during a 15-hour flight.
A Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor fighter jet.
There were no reports of conflict between the Russian and the U.S. and Canadian warplanes.
“NORAD’s top priority is defending Canada and the United States,” General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the NORAD commander, said in a statement.
“Our ability to protect our nations starts with successfully detecting, tracking, and positively identifying aircraft of interest approaching U.S. and Canadian airspace.”
NORAD, a combined U.S.-Canadian command, uses radar, satellites, and aircraft to monitor aircraft entering U.S. or Canadian airspace.
U.S. officials have reported several incidents of U.S. and Canadian jets scrambling to intercept Russian warplanes and escorting them from the region.
In September 2018, the Pentagon issued a protest after U.S. Air Force fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace west of Alaska.
In that incident, the jets followed the Russian craft until they left the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone.
In April 2017, Russian warplanes flew near Alaska and Canada several times, prompting air defense forces to scramble jets after a two-year lull in such activity.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the incident, saying the bombers were performing “scheduled flights over neutral waters” when they were escorted by the U.S. F-22 warplanes.
Encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes in various parts of the world have increased in recent years as Moscow demonstrates its resurgent military might.
Moscow said it scrambled a jet in June 2017 to intercept a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber it said was flying over the Baltic Sea.